"It reminds them that for the next hour they get to go out riding and be whoever they want to be."
Riding a bike means many different things to many different people. It is an ever changing and fluid relationship throughout your life. It can have a long lasting and impactful influence on how your life is shaped. My earliest memories of riding a bike are when I was a freshman in high school ripping through the woods that connected my home to my best friend’s neighborhood. It was the start of summer and I had just earned my first legit, geared mountain bike. This bike was a key to exploration and freedom for me. I was finally allowed to leave our cul-de-sac and find new routes and different paths through the trees and dirt to my buddy’s house.
As I entered college, my bike became a tool for transportation. I was using it to get from the dorm to the pool early in the morning for practice, then quickly to the dining hall to inhale as much food as I could before racing off to my first class of the day. The University of Maryland has a large campus and my class load in the fall semester of my freshman year had me covering just about every square foot. Again, I used that bike to explore, find, and link new ways to get to class, food, and practice in the most efficient ways possible.
Years later, the bike was still there for me as a tool for recovery after a meniscus repair in my left knee. I was single, teaching middle school physical education, and living with a friend from college whose home happened to back right up to a huge network of paths and trails. Day by day, my knee became stronger as I spun around the lake on the cinder paths all the while scoping out the trails that linked together. Fully recovered with a stronger knee, my friend and I shredded the trails after work as many evenings as we could. The bikes were a release from stressful days teaching and sitting in traffic on the way home. Lights were purchased to open a whole new world of night trail riding. I began riding more and more as a solo. I couldn’t get enough. A midweek summer race series on the same trails I rode daily caught my eye and my competitive nature took over.
For the next few years, mountain bike and cyclocross racing was the priority. The bike was an outlet for my competitive spirit. The training, the planning, and the racing allowed me to challenge myself, set goals, and compete. I loved having the competitive spirit come alive in myself again. It was something that was missing since swimming for Maryland in college. Turning myself inside out on courses that challenged all of my bike skill sets allowed me to figure out what I needed to improve to get to the front. I also really enjoyed the sense of community in and around the racing scenes. I have met a lot of great and amazing people that to this day I can turn to for help or for a good laugh.
The stars aligned, my wife and I began dating and then got married. We started a family with our daughter born in 2015 and son in 2018. Priorities shifted for the best. The bike was still there, but now it was being used twofold: a means of transportation to and from school commuting and as a means of enjoyment for quick windows of time getting out and riding. Commuting to work allows me to clear my mind on the way into school and get a solid amount of exercise as well. Riding home allows the stress of the school day to vanish and I arrive home ready to be the husband and dad my family deserves. Also, I am showing my students that I practice what I teach. I love riding my bike and I love being able to teach them how awesome it can be.
In the late winter of 2017, I received an email that listed possible grants for your school physical education programs. I typically breezed through these emails, but something caught my eye: “Riding for Focus” Middle School Cycling Program. Zero hesitation. I love cycling. I love teaching physical education. I immediately opened the link to the application and excitedly filled it out. My department head was on board and so was my administration. I had the green light. This was just the program our students and school needed. A daily cycling program that is run through physical education to benefit student’s total wellness.
By the fall of 2018, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School was a member of Outride’s Riding for Focus program. Outride’s Riding for Focus school-based cycling program uses cycling as a tool for students to achieve academic, health, and social success. I was now in a position to share with my students the amazing benefits of riding a bike. In providing a full class set of bikes, helmets, and lessons, the Riding for Focus program is making cycling accessible to students who might never have the opportunities to ride. The positive impact of this program was immediate!
The benefits of a daily riding program are reaching my students across the wellness spectrum. Riding for Focus is all inclusive. The students are riding the same style bikes and wearing the same style helmets without having to worry about being the fastest, the best, or the winner. Our goal as a class is to ride as a group as far and as safely as we can for our 47 minute period. Teachers are noticing an improvement in the academic success of our Riding for Focus students: “I've noticed that students who are in the program have been able to focus and engage more in my class compared to when I taught them last year.”
The Riding for Focus program opens the paths for new adventures for student’s right in their own community. One of the benefits of the program is that we are able to ride off campus to a state park that is less than a mile from school. We are able to travel on paved hike/bike trails that loop around a lake. It is always a rad feeling taking the students there for the first time! Anticipation builds all week long and they cannot wait for “Black Hills Ride Friday”! Most students do not even know there is a park let alone a lake right by school. Students who have participated in the program have told me stories about how their family went on a ride together on the same path over the weekend. Or they got together with friends and now have a new fishing spot that they can ride too. It is an amazing feeling knowing that my students are starting to see how a bike can be the key to unlock a whole new set of adventures outside of their doors.
An exercise we do in the middle of the program asks the students “What Will They Outride?” Students fill out a short statement and they are posted on the walls that lead to our Riding for Focus classroom. This exercise is meant to show that riding affects everyone in their own individual way. What do my students outride? Stress, ADHD, homework, bullying, divorce, gossip, loneliness, grades, anxiety, relationships, being overweight, depression, lack of confidence are just some of the answers my students gave. They are reminded of these daily as they get their helmets on and their bikes ready to ride. It is a small reminder of why this program is so important. It helps remind myself, as a teacher, what I am providing for them. It reminds them that for the next hour they get to go out riding and be whoever they want to be. And that is all that matters.
About the Contributor
John Glodek is a physical/health education teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Germantown, Maryland. He has been an avid cyclist for decades and now enjoys sharing the sport with his family and his students.
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